Since Karl Benz himself was in lederhosen, Mercedes has constructed the world’s greatest luxurious saloon. Can BMW lastly upset the Apfelkarren?
It is bought a face on it, the BMW i7. Iron Man’s face. Narrowed eyes in an emotionless steel masks bleak and difficult sufficient to batter via brick partitions. Useful, in a pursuit state of affairs. It comes throughout not a lot a luxurious automotive as a modernist object. Rolling structure, a cellular monument to controversy. You don’t even discover the grille. In M Sport guise it’s been absorbed right into a mouthy morass that comes with a full width biker’s tache.
It’s the anti S-Class. Lastly. In the end. I imply what number of years, many years, has it taken BMW, Audi et al to understand that mimicry doesn’t work? That merely copying the S-Class, the plutocrat’s totem-in-chief, isn’t sufficient? OK, BMW has completed controversial earlier than. The 2001 7 Collection was a sq., chiselled Bangle block. That was the automotive that launched iDrive to the world, and set the tone for all in-car infotainment till the touchscreen got here alongside. Its affect was large, however regardless of that it was by no means a greater automotive than the S-Class.
The brand new one is. Genuinely. Recreation given away early, however the conventional automotive courses not often relinquish their idols; these are sectors constructed and formed across the vehicles which have come to symbolise them – the Golf, Vary Rover, BMW 3 Collection. And sure, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Toppling one virtually by no means occurs (the Golf scuttled itself). Since you don’t construct a greater automotive by copying it.
Images: Mark Riccioni
So how has BMW completed it? It has nothing to do with the i7’s electrical drive. OK, little to do with it. Twin motors drawing discreetly from a 101kWh battery present plentiful surge, however that’s not the purpose. The throttle calibration is immaculate. You need to crawl in visitors? Achieved. Surge previous slower visitors? Achieved. Park? Achieved. And completed with such precision and diligence that you simply by no means give it some thought. Mercedes doesn’t do an electrical S-Class. The all-electric EQS lurks in a distinct, curious realm. For the driving force, not the pushed, a automotive with an vague persona and position.
So right here now we have an S580e. And offered you by no means push it too exhausting it’s inside an inch of being as clean and silent because the BMW. The in-line turbocharged six is essentially undetectable, only a trace of background vibration. Until you let the revs climb. Above 4,000rpm there’s a skinny rasp that doesn’t swimsuit the S-Class’s refined manner. However the petrol/electrical handover is seamless and Merc’s effectively built-in plug-in hybrid stays the benchmark by which all are judged.
And not less than you do not have to cost it up, proper? It doesn’t matter that the BMW will simply do 280 miles between expenses as a result of the S-Class will do double that with out the driving force palpitating about the place their subsequent cost may come from. Electrical isn’t but the proper answer for an airport chauffeuring fleet. For that cause, BMW does a 750e xDrive. It’s about £10k cheaper and the stats line up respectably subsequent to the S. We haven’t pushed one but, or we’d have the ability to remark extra comprehensively on the purpose made earlier concerning the i7’s win right here having little to do with its pure electrical drive. However sure, as suspected, electrical is the last word approach to inspire a luxurious automotive.
However noise and vibration doesn’t simply come from the engine – and right here’s the place BMW has actually scored one over Mercedes. The i7 rides higher than the S580e. It’s quieter, extra cushioned and supple. It floats fantastically over undulations, nevertheless it’s the way in which the air suspension (individually managed on every wheel) eases over velocity bumps as frivolously as a cloud over a hilltop that basically units it aside. Within the S-Class there’s a hint of low velocity thump and jostle, not a lot, however sufficient to fractionally disturb the peace of the again seat.
The BMW’s suspension insulation is extraordinary. Clearly, expertise has been hosed on the i7, however a shout out too for the brand new bushes for the e-motors, steering that has been elastically mounted to the entrance axle to cease noise and vibration from the tie rods, and a hydraulically mounted rear axle to forestall resonance again into the cabin.
Usually, give attention to softness and absorbency would end in a automotive that fell to bits at a nook. However as soon as once more right here comes tech to save lots of the day: adaptive dampers, 48V energetic anti-roll and rear wheel steering. It’s a 5.4-metre lengthy, 2,640kg automotive that feels correct and nimble to drive. You get in and reckon it’s going to be like piloting a tanker round a Cornish harbour, solely to find that it seems to be a boating lake pedalo. It’s uncanny. Simple to position, responsive and with a superb turning circle. Plus it’ll whisk itself down a B-road with sufficient verve that these watching Ronin within the again will suppose they’re in a sim rig.
The Mercedes doesn’t steer fairly so alertly, however in any other case makes use of a lot the identical expertise to related impact. And being considerably lighter, it really has extra grip and holds itself collectively even higher in case you are intent on throwing it about such as you’re really in Ronin reasonably than simply watching it. However these are luxurious vehicles, and the BMW drives extra luxuriously than the Mercedes. It pours itself alongside tarmac with a syrupy smoothness that I’ve solely skilled earlier than in a Rolls-Royce. No coincidence given the hyperlinks between the 2.
You’ll have heard two issues concerning the BMW’s inside: that it has a large cinema display screen for rear passengers, and that the doorways open and shut electrically. And also you’re most likely reckoning they’re each non-essential gimmicks. I don’t suppose they’re. As a substitute, what they do is assist the i7 tilt the idea of luxurious. It is a extra playful, laid-back, relaxed tackle luxurious than the S-Class. That, for all its appreciable strengths, ploughs a conventional, fractionally austere furrow. BMW appears to have had enjoyable creating its new automotive. That is the essence of the i7, and why it steals the Merc’s crown.
Sure, the Mercedes has temper lighting that ebbs and flows across the cabin. At night time it seems to be marvellous, smooth mild choosing out the burnished steel trims and the intricate grilles of the Burmester sound system. There’s a touch of baroque theatre to the S-Class. And it’s massively snug with luxurious seats for all. Appearances counsel that is the decrease, leaner automotive, but it’s bought a toe extra legroom than the BMW and has the extra cocooning setting. Relying on trim degree there’s loads of stuff to play with within the again, nevertheless it doesn’t have something to match the BMW’s get together trick.
The i7’s Theatre Display comes as a part of the £28,000 Final Pack. That’s a ridiculous amount of cash, however in the event you’re going to be chauffeur pushed, you may as effectively profit from it. The 31.3-inch 8K show folds itself out of the roof and blows you away. Nicely, it’s principally the 36 audio system of the Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi that do this, full with exciters that vibrate the seats in time with the bass. Just like the Merc, the passenger seat will contort itself into the entrance footwell, permitting the one behind to choose you up and lay you again. That is the seat to be in. The place finally ends up being curiously akin to a dentist’s chair, solely with out the worry. Put merely I don’t know of one other travelling expertise to rival wafting alongside behind the i7.
Central to the BMW’s attraction, weirdly, is a modest button on the centre console labelled MyModes. It’s the form of button you’d usually press to get Sport or Environment friendly driving modes – and certainly these are in right here. However so are others: Expressive, Loosen up, Theatre. Choose one and any variety of issues occur: the temper lighting modifications, the display screen folds down, the suspension stiffens, the blinds rise, therapeutic massage begins, you possibly can even begin enjoying Hans Zimmer tunes on the throttle. It ought to all be ridiculous, however really it’s fun.
As soon as past buttons although, you’re compelled to work together with the enormous touchscreen. You’ll get misplaced in menus and choices. The Mercedes is extra navigable, has extra logical shortcuts however nonetheless, an excessive amount of eyes off street time. That is anti-luxury. The German manufacturers, not like Rolls and Bentley, haven’t realized that the ‘agony of selection’ is literal.
The argument each manufacturers make is that we should now discuss to our vehicles, should use Siri and ‘Hey Mercedes’. So for 2 weeks with these vehicles, I did. They get it proper seven occasions out of 10. The opposite three make you boil with irritation. But additionally this: these vehicles are for the chauffeur pushed. The chauffeur can not chat to the automotive if he has a shopper within the again. It’s the identical with household vehicles: how lengthy do you suppose it’ll take a five-year-old to choose up on the catchphrase and trigger havoc? Even travelling solo, who needs to interrupt the radio or music to ask the automotive to do one thing it is best to have the ability to do your self in lower than half the time?
The identical ought to use to the electrical doorways (additionally a part of the Final Pack), however there’s something Jeeves-ish concerning the door whisking itself open and closed. There are 12 ultrasound sensors to cease them opening into issues. There’s quite a lot of rinky dink razzle dazzle about these vehicles, however what they now not are is the very best automotive on the planet. The sport has moved on, is performed higher in different sectors now. Few see luxurious saloons because the aspirational finish recreation.
So regardless of its win, the BMW doesn’t get to name itself the very best automotive on the planet. Nonetheless, this new i7 needs to be each bit as influential as 2001’s spatial oddity. It’s a more energizing, brasher tackle luxurious than the automotive that has, till now, reigned supreme.
No 1: BMW i7 xDrive 60 M Sport (9/10)
The posh saloon world has a brand new champ. Ignore the tough visuals and give attention to the stunning street manners and immersive rear seat expertise
No 2: Mercedes-Benz S580E L AMG Line Premium Plus Exec (9/10)
The S-Class hardly lags far behind. Luxurious within the again and simpler to handle up entrance. Hybrid stays the decide of the vary